CAIRO: Lawyers and family members of Al-Salam 98 ferry victims as well as civil rights activists gathered Thursday at the Journalists’ Syndicate to discuss the recent appeals court verdict, sentencing the owner and two others to prison terms in absentia.
The recent verdict overturned a July ruling acquitting five of six defendants in the case. It found the ferry owner Mamdouh Ismail guilty of involuntary manslaughter and convicted two company officials of negligence in the rescue operation. They were sentenced to three years in jail.
Yasser Fathi, a lawyer representing the victims’ families, explained how they were subjected to much pressure and lured with financial offers to drop the case. He said that the government had “conspired against the victims’ families.
“A number of official bodies neglected their duties for the benefit of Ismail. First, it was the former Prosecutor General who wanted to end the whole case as soon as Ismail paid compensation to the families. Second, the Shoura Council failed to lift Ismail’s parliamentary immunity before he fled the country, he said.
He also pointed to the conspiratorial role of the state media which deliberately quoted the least eloquent of the victims’ lawyers alongside the stronger lawyers representing the defendants.
He added that the Ministry of Interior was also guilty of neglecting some evidence and testimonies and allowing Ismail to flee the country.
Italian lawyer, Marco Bona from Ambrosio and Commodo law firm, was present at the trial and the conference, to show his support. “[Last Wednesday] justice has been done but more justice had to be done, he said.
Bona is also in Egypt to gather all the necessary information, including technical reports and testimonies, to present the case to the Geneva Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.
Families of the victims questioned how Ismail and any of the other defendants will serve their sentence and whether he will be brought back to Egypt.
Many of the victim’s relatives who had not received the bodies of their loved ones believe that they were kidnapped.
Zeinab Yosry Abdel Hamid refused to refer to her son as her “late son, saying that she saw him as he was being rescued on Al Jazeera news channel. “I saw him as he was getting out of the water and I have the footage, so where is he? she asked.
Other relatives who were present at the gathering, such as Zakaria Mohamed Abdel Sattar from Upper Egypt, refused to accept condolences or hold a funeral until “justice is served and Ismail and all other parties involved are locked up in prison, he said.
Lawyers were glad that the court found the defendants guilty but believe that the sentence is too lenient.
The court also upheld a ruling against Salah-Eddin Gomaa, the captain of Saint Catherine, another ferry that failed to respond to Al-Salam’s distress call. Gomaa received a six-month jail sentence last July.
Al-Salam 98 Boccaccio ferry sank in the Red Sea on Feb. 3, 2006, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 Egyptians who were coming back from Saudi Arabia.
Following the disaster, the fugitive owner of the ferry paid $57 million (£41.3 million) into a compensation fund for the victims – about $50,000 for each family of those killed. In return, a freeze on his assets was lifted.